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Full text of "ModernGermanLiterature18801950"

200                  MODERN  GERMAN  LITERATURE

is the cosmic force which impels man and maid to their embraces,
which for purpose have not the unborn child but the fathers lying
like crumbled hills in our deeps and the dry river-bed of mothers
to be ... Man's love does not pulse at the call of mother or gentle
maiden, but is the heart-beat of countless generations.

In The Book of Poverty and Death and in Malte Rilke had shown
death to be an integral part of life. In the Elegies death is a means
of transcending life, a transformation such as that of the child
from womb to world.

In the ist Elegy Rilke deals with an apparent difficulty: if what
we mature by a rich life passes over into death, then those who
die young take over an unripened fruit, and to them death is
strange. But since life and death form a unity then the living can
help these unripened dead until they grow conscious of eternity.
The 4th Elegy - which is in decasyllabic iambic blank verse -
deals with the drama of life which is played in the consciousness
of death's presence, mourns the disharmony in the adult of mask
and being, and points back to the undisturbed unity of childhood
in which, since there is no consciousness, there is no mask. The
implication is that if man could strip off appearance and attain the
reality of his inner being he would lose all consciousness of seem-
ing and act, as puppets do in a play, without seeking something
by the acting* In the 5th Elegy - one of the most difficult - acro-
bats are celebrated as being more fugacious than other men c(Wer
abersindsie, sag mir^ die Fahrenden, diese tin wenig \ Fluchtigern noch ah
mr selbst?\ The idea - conveyed by a series of shifting associa-
tions which pass and fade as in a half-remembered dream - is that
acrobats are a model for us, because they act to the will of the
spectators - that is, as puppets; as we might act - instruments
responding to a divine touch - to the will of the angel, if our
actions were controlled by what the devising force above us de-
sires. This image of acrobats, possibly suggested by Picasso's
picture Les Saltimbanques? is a link in Rilke's final argument that
suffering is a necessary part of our functions under divine guid-
ance. The 6th Elegy, the shortest, unfolds from contemplation of
a fig-tree which fruits without blossoming the conception of the

1 But see The Fifth Dmno E/tgy (in The Welsh Rewew, Vol. m, No. 2, June
1944) by B. J; Morse, who quotes a letter describing a performance by a
troupe of acrobats in Paris in 1906; the persons mentioned correspond closely
to those of the Elegy.